"Papadopoulos & Sons", or The Romantics of Business
In ”The Wrecker”, a not so famous but nevertheless once quite successful adventure novel and bildungsroman by ”Treasure Island” and ”Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” creator Robert Louis Stevenson, the narrator speaks of something he calls “the romanticism of business”. The seductive magic of this expression and its ambiguities came into mind immediately after having seen ”Papadopoulos & Sons” by Marcus Markou in the Greek competition of the 53rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
Many encounters with entrepreneurs have taught me that setting up a business involves a large amount of romanticism. You need to not only be clever but also naive (as opposed to sentimental, to make use of Schiller´s distinction). You have to follow your fantasies, fancies, inclinations and often your very personal obsessions in achieving your goal. Money as a motif might be overestimated if you consider the risks people are willing to take and which are often a threat to their wellbeing. Enjoying what you do is the best drive forward.
But at the same time failure, as well as success, can destroy your own life and that of others in vast (if not global) dimensions, turning romanticism into tragedy, thus dissolving all the magic. This may happen especially when entrepreneurs fall for the sublime – whether it is symbolized by money or other values. Although overall a lighthearted comedy with only occasional tragic moments, ”Papadopoulos & Sons” shows a lot of this by means of very good acting and even better dialogue, excelling in surprisingly accurate detail of the business world and its codes of behaviour and talk.
The movie takes off with a moment of triumph, which journalists of economics know is always critical to subsequent disappointment. The so-called “managers of the year” are often fired soon after receiving their title. So in a way is Harry Papadopoulos, the self-made multimillionaire from Greece and proprietor of a large food company based in London. The fine actor Stephen Dillane decided to take his chances on a lead who is often relegated to a mere part of the composition. He plays Harry brilliantly and fills the role with nuances: from the slightly (but never bluntly) false movements betraying the insecurities of a rather introverted personality to level-headed business-dealing, producing typical negotiation-talk. His character has to cope with a deep fall: after having been honoured as “Entrepreneur of the Year”, his enterprise crashes in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
To the shock of his family, which consists of his daughter Katie (Georgia Groome), his son James (Frank Dillane), the much younger brother Theo (Thomas Underhill), and the mother-replacement Mrs. Parrington (Selina Cadell), the widower has even to sell the mansion house. To the remark of one of his consultants that he should have put some money off-shore, he answers bitterly: “I am not Greek enough”. His strategy to survive disaster is twofold, which gives writer-director Markou the occasion to admiringly balance chance and fate in each component of the plan.
Harry’s efforts to get back his property with the help of banks lead to a real transaction mumbo jumbo set up by his so-called consultants and lawyers. The German saying “Beraten und verkauft” (counselled and sold), a variation of the alliteration “verraten und verkauft” (betrayed and sold), expresses his situation quite adequately. The especially impressive Ed Stoppard in the role of Rob – whose name hints at ‘robber’ – represents the type of consultant who is something of a merchant-adventurer on the seas of financial high risks. While totally unlikeable, they fascinate by their Gargantuan, Rabelais-like metaphors which have their own linguistic charm, as well as by gestures one finds even in lower ranks, by which businessmen (and women) try to lionize themselves, stabilizing very fragile identities. This is the side of fate.
Chance is embodied by Rob’s colleague Sophie, whose US Midwest origin is not very well captured by German-born London resident Cosima Shaw in terms of accent, although she is believable in her role. Sophie is on the brink of quitting her job because she is deeply dissatisfied with the way Harry’s case is being handled. This sort of disappointment is often found. You can sense it also when businessmen begin to talk about leaving their job and country for a small village behind the Andes, preferably without a water supply. When Sophie tells Harry that she has fled the US because of a painful divorce and wants to set up her own business, he replies: “I am sorry” – and adds, after a pause: “For your divorce – not for the other thing.” This is not only bittersweetly funny, but renders his newly acquired scepticism concerning business. She has to overcome this scepticism by means of her pragmatism. The term “romantic business comedy” is already coined, but often seems to be sloppily applied compared to “Papadopoulos & Sons”. It’s not the physical attraction, but what they have to give each other spiritually, which will make ends meet both romantically and economically. They become romantics of business.
The other survival strategy stems not from Harry but his brother Spiros, energetically portrayed by Georges Corraface. Having lost sight of flamboyant Spiros, who has taken and abandoned a lot of jobs for many years, Harry wants him now to sell his part of the closed fish-and-chip shop they founded thirty years ago. Spiros laughs at this and proposes that they re-open the shop. Harry is strongly against this, but under the pressure of his family he gives in. The adventure is at least a modest success – which, in contrast to filmmaker Stephen Frears’ explorations in this field, is altogether plausible because there are experts in the food business behind the counter. Nevertheless, Spiros has planned more of a family reunion than a business and dies when Harry seems to succeed in getting back his property. This is again fate.
However, because of Spiro’s legacy, there is also a chance. He has inspired them all with his enthusiasm and a hope to go on; to overcome barriers. Harry has absorbed this intellectually and emotionally and let it guide himself. With ”Attenberg”, the Greek film which aroused fascination worldwide, a mainstream comedy like ”Papadopoulos & Sons” might have nothing in common in terms of artistic attitude, genre, way of direction, acting, and so on. Except perhaps for the message: Let’s start it all over. Or let’s start it at all. With joy and a good dose of romanticism.
Edited by Carmen Gray
© FIPRESCI 2012